From education to employment

Investment needed to support our future

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC)

For a long time, the UK economy has relied on large numbers of skilled and semi-skilled people from the EU and beyond. There are already signs that migration is falling, skills shortages are increasing and productivity is still stagnant.

The UK needs to remain outward-looking and will inevitably continue to have significant levels of immigration and emigration but a sensible long-term objective is for the UK to be self-sufficient in skills.

The Government will need to spend more on 16 to 18-year-olds to give them the start in life they deserve and to match the academic and technical training of our OECD competitors.

The Department for Education (DfE) also needs to build a system for adults that encourages lifelong learning and tackles basic skills. DfE should also ensure money is used efficiently, to tackle the waste that arises in small sixth forms and to review its approach to GCSE resits.

The strong emphasis on skills in the Industrial Strategy now needs investment so that colleges can deliver and there needs to be some refinements of policy towards apprenticeships and higher education.

Young people having 15 hours a week teaching and support has dropped, compared to more than 25 in many OECD countries.

Public spending on education is 4.5% of GDP in 2016-17 and is forecast by the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) to fall to 3.9% by 2021-22.

OBR predicts spending will stay below 4% of GDP for the long-term. During the early years of the 2000s, spending was 5% of GDP and rose during the financial crisis to a peak at 5.8%.

Some of the difference is explained by the increase in higher education (HE) tuition fees and the introduction of the student loan scheme but a significant explanation of the change has been the squeeze in spending on schools and colleges.

The Treasury and DfE are holding down funding at a time when the total number of pupils and students is rising.

Government action is needed to ensure that the young population is properly prepared for the future but also to help train adults to fill future vacancies.

Regardless of what happens in other countries, the UK should be spending more on education and training than less. A longer target to raise the public education spending to 5% of GDP by 2025 would be a rational objective.

Colleges are ready and willing to step up to meet the challenges our country faces; our proposals will help them do that for the benefit of young people and adults, employers and communities.

David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges (AoC).

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